Sunday, 25 May 2008

Sri Lanka Forktail Up Close & Very Personal

Breaking News: The ‘mystery female’ caught red-handed!

Sri Lanka Forktail in tandem position -24, May, 2008 Bomiriya, Kaduwela. The female is on the bottom holding on to the male
Colombo, Sri Lanka—On what can be described as a ‘momentous day for mankind,’ a mating pair of the rare and endemic Sri Lankan clubtail dragonfly, Sri Lanka Forktail Macrogomphus lankanensis was discovered by Amila Salgado in his own yard on Saturday, 24 May, 2008. “The female form of this rare clubtail had not been described by scientists since this species was described in 1933 by the Odontalogist; F.C. Fraser and because of that, this discovery is a very important one” says the discoverer, who was ecstatic following his paparazzi work.

Enough of the cheesy news reporting, and let’s talk more about dragonfly sex first.

The dragonfly mating looks really curious due the bizarre mating positions they adopt. The main reason for this is the male dragonflies seem to be "wrongly constructed." As in all other insects, the male dragonflies have their genital opening at the bottom of the 9th segment of abdomen. However, the copulation organs are found at the second segment. Due to this the male have to transport its sperm from the end of the abdomen to the beginning of the abdomen while bending the abdomen forwards. This is a very rapid operation. Usually the transferred sperm will be sufficient for several copulations.

Sri Lanka Forktail. See the forktail in the insert, which earns it its name
To mate, the male dragonfly grasps the female's neck with his anal appendages, raises his abdomen and invites the female to bend her abdomen to join her genital opening with his copulating organ. At this stage, the couple is said to be in "tandem position." Another name for the same is "wheel position."

The anal appendages that the male uses to clasp the back of the female's head will only fit into the females of the same species. The duration the male and female would be in tandem position varies from species to species—from a few seconds to several minutes. They may fly in tandem or find a suitable place to settle in the process.

Coming back to the current observation, the Sri Lanka Forktail pair was spotted in tandem position hanging in a coconut frond at my a woody patch in my yard, when I specifically went in search of the elusive female  of this rare clubtail dragonfly! That made this discovery all the more special.

Here's closer look at my private jungle.

Another look at my pitta-patchFor all intents and purposes it was a marathon mating effort lasting for over half an hour and I was able to photograph them in different angles (through digiscoping) as they remained locked in their passionate embrace.

Sri Lanka Forktail in tandem position -24, May, 2008 Bomiriya, KaduwelaSoon after the mating was over, I was able to photograph the male and the female resting low in a slightly open spot. During the real time observations and studying the photographs subsequently of the mating pair, it was obvious to me that the female has a larger body compared to the male and is marked with somewhat bolder yellow spots along the body.

Tracing back to the pictures posted a few days ago, it became clear to me that those indeed were of a female as it appears to have a fatter look to it with more prominent yellow markings although I did not take much notice of these differences at that time.

Below is a male photographed by me and shown in a previous post. Its identity and gender was confirmed by the Odontologist Matjaž Bedjanič.

Sri Lanka Forktail -male, Bomiriya, Kaduwela And below is the individual that I photographed and shared by me in this blog previously. I have rotated the image for easier comparison. Now that I have seen a pair in tandem, it looks to be a female due to structural and morphological similarities to the female observed. I will soon break the news to the Odonatoholics including Matjaž who encouraged me to look for females (of this dragonfly).
Sri Lanka Forktail - female 18 May, 2008 Bomiriya, Kaduwela
Related posts:

Sri Lanka Forktail Up close and personal.
Dragons in my garden Part-2.

This post is my contribution to Circus Of The Spineless #33 hosted by Seeds Aside
Circus of the Spineless - Blog carnival devoted to all things spineless


Chrissy said...

Congratulations on the amazing feat of finding this rare pair. The photos are stunning. Watch out, CNN may come calling for an exclusive :-)

Amila Suwa said...

Thanks Chrisss!
ha..ha..I must be ready in case the gorgeous Anjali Rao comes knocking on my door..!

Modesto Viegas said...

Great job, congratulations.

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Modesto,
Thanks a lot! Good to hear your comments!

Bea said...

Congrats! Great pics as ever

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Bea,
Thanks a lot!
I am pleased to hear your comments.

Nora said...

Hi Amila, that was a good capture of them...I see you take good macros all the time too...I think I need some new lenses to keep up with all you photographers on blogger!!! Good post...cheers.

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Ocean,
Thank you!
Yes, I love to go macro whenever possible. As you may be aware, none of these were taken with special macro lenses but ordinary point and shoot digital cameras. The pair in tandem was digi-scoped.

So it would be easier for you to keep up with me!

I'd love to get hold of a decent digital SLR and a good lens such as yours one day to match your high-voltage telephoto shots.

Duncan said...

Great find Amila, good to capture the mating pair, makes a photo with that bit extra. I've found that it's sometimes easier to photograph them while they're thus occupied, a bit more to focus on too!

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Duncan,
Thanks! It was great to see the male and female side by side as I didn't know how the latter looked liked. You're right it is kind of easier to focus when they are thus occupied and stationary! I am very bad in photographing most damselflies as my camera always find it difficult to focus on them.

Duncan said...

Spot focus is the way to go with dragons Amila, if your camera has that feature. It's what I use all the time with my Panasonic FZ30. Spot metering too with aperture priority.

Amila Suwa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amila Suwa said...

Thanks for sharing those settings generously Duncan. I will try them next when I meet a damsel.

chrome3d said...

Thanks for dragonfly-sex! I learned so much new stuff.

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Chrome3d,
Glad you did! Remember it is only the dragonflies that can try such positions.

Kathie Brown said...

gallicissa, this is quite a story! I didn't know you knew so much about insect life! Have you ever visited Gossemer Tapestry's blog? Doug Tauron loves insects too!

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Kathie,
Thank you! Yes, I do like my insects particularly butterflies & dragonflies. Thankfully, we have now got good literature on these insects relevant to this country, which helps.

We have nearly 250 species of butterflies and over 150 species of dragonflies here in Sri Lanka, so those together are quite a lot of 'flies' to keep you occupied on a nature walk, especially when bird activity drops!

No, I haven't visited Gossamer Tapestry before and after you've brought to my notice, I did. It sure looks a heaven for insect lovers and will definitely explore it more. Thanks for that!

By the way your Gambel's Quail shots are great & you make an important point about having light on its face when photographing it, as otherwise its eyes disappear into its black facial background.I can see how we can apply that for several birds over here!

Kathie Brown said...

Glad the photo info helps. Oh my word, so many insect to I.D.!

Amila Suwa said...

Yes Kathie; they can be very distracting when you are trying to do proper birding!

Preveen said...

Please tell me I have managed to capture a rare and endemic Dragonfly :)
I have no idea at all about dragonflies. It certainly looks right. Could you please leave a ID note on the page if I'm right?

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Preveen,
Thanks for dropping by.
I had a look. Great shot!
It is a Green Skimmer male.
Enjoy hunting dragons!

Unknown said...

Dear Amila,

Thanks for the very interesting information on the mechanics of dragonfly sex.

I wasn't able to identify the dragonfly whose photos I took at my home garden in Maharagama about two months back until I read the above post today. Now I can positively identify it as the female Sri Lanka Forktail.

Thank you again for sharing this information on the web and popularising dragonfly watching among amateurs enthusiasts like us.

Ravi Palihawadana

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Ravi,
I am pleased to hear that this post helped you to make a postive ID. Good find!

Thanks for appreciating my efforts. I hope you will make many such discoveries. I recommend a dragonfly pond like mine.

You will not regret it.

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